'Worse before it gets better': Experts warn of wave of deaths from omicron variant

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch

York County saw more than 600 new COVID-19 cases and three new deaths Wednesday as experts fear an oncoming wave of omicron-related deaths.

Pennsylvania officials emphasized the importance of testing Wednesday as the latest infection models forecast between 50,000 and 300,000 more deaths nationwide through mid-March. COVID-19 related deaths in nursing homes have already begun to rise over the last two weeks. 

“Testing is the best way to identify whether you are infected with the virus,” acting state Health Secretary Keara Klinepeter said Wednesday. “It is imperative to quarantine and isolate if you test positive for COVID-19 so that we can stop the spread of all variants of the virus."

In addition to in-person testing sites, families can now obtain up to four at-home test kits via the U.S. Postal Service.

More:COVID-19 surge spurs differing hospitalization rates among children

More:WellSpan, York City Police to dedicate four officers to York Hospital, other facilities

According to state data, York County has reported 106,721 cases and 1,290 COVID-19 related deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the state Department of Health.

Cases have been surging across the county since mid-December, due to the highly contagious omicron variant. Although local health officials said the variant has proved to result in less severe illnesses, but national research projects that death rates will begin climbing in the next few weeks.

“It unfortunately is going to get worse before it gets better," University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi told the Associated Press.

In an effort to fight the variant, the Biden administration announced Wednesday it will provide 400 million N95 face masks for free to U.S. residents starting next week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday updated its guidance on face coverings to more clearly state that properly fitted N95 and KN95 masks offer the most protection against COVID-19.

READ MORE: It's time to supply everyone with free N95 masks — and for us to use them, too

This will be the largest distribution of free masks by the federal government to the public since the pandemic began. The masks will be available for pickup at pharmacies and community health centers across the country, White House officials said. 

York County has the highest daily cases per capita among its four neighboring counties, at 261 daily cases per 100,000 people, according to The New York Times. However, the rate of COVID-19 spread in York County is on par with its immediate neighbors:

  • York County: 26% increase in cases over the last 14 days
  • Lancaster County: 7% increase in cases over the last 14 days
  • Adams County: 28% increase in cases over the last 14 days
  • Cumberland County: 60% increase in cases over the last 14 days
  • Dauphin County: 19% increase in cases over the last 14 days
  • Philadelphia: 15% decrease in cases over the last 14 days
  • New York City: 41% decrease in cases over the last 14 days

Across Pennsylvania, the case total increased to 2,506,132 and 38,767 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the state Department of Health.

Hospitalizations:  Hospitals in York County had a total of 270 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Of those patients, 56 adults were in the ICU and 49 were on ventilators, according to the state Department of Health. 

WellSpan York Hospital had 201 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday. The rest of the WellSpan Health system also is seeing a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations, with 481 patients across all facilities.

Schools: Meanwhile, York County's 16 public school districts logged 392 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday after seeing a slight dip in new cases Tuesday. The total for the 2021-2022 school year stands at 7,475. 

York County schools have already more than doubled the total number of COVID-19 cases than were reported throughout all of the previous school year. If the trend of higher cases continues, by this summer local schools could have had more than four times the cases they had last year. 

You can keep track of your district's recorded cases for the 2021-2022 school year here. We will continue to update on a daily basis as numbers change.